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BRAD R. COOK
Book One of The Iron Chronicles
a Y/A Steampunk Adventure!
(published under the Treehouse Publishing Group imprint)
Alexander Armitage doesn’t fit in at Eton College. Not only is he an American, his father, the newest professor at school, is obsessed with ancient languages and the dusty old books he makes Alexander study. When his father is kidnapped, Alexander gladly leaves this world behind and finds himself partnered with a baron’s daughter, her little bronze dragon, and an eclectic crew of Sky Raiders in a quest to find him. When their search leads them to Malta, they discover a secret society intent on unleashing the four ancient horsemen and destroying the reins of power in London.
In a steam-powered Victorian world where pirates prowl the sky and secret societies determine the future like a game of chess, Alexander must confront the harsh legacy of the divided country he left behind, a new aristocratic world that rejects him, and the overwhelming pressure of being offered to become a Horseman himself.
About the Author:
Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy writer, and publisher at Treehouse Publishing Group. An award winning short story writer, he began as a playwright, and joined the board of St. Louis Writers Guild in 2008, guiding the organization as President since 2011. He learned to fence at thirteen and never set down his sword, but prefers to curl up with his cat and a centuries’ old classic. He writes during the witching hour when his muses are most active, and asks everyone to preserve our historical treasures for future generation. Visit his website to learn more about him and to see Alexander’s Sketchbook.
Enjoy an excerpt:
I’d always wanted to be like the heroes in my favorite stories—George Washington, or Sir Galahad, maybe King Arthur, Robin Hood, or Robinson Crusoe—but I knew those lives belonged to great men, not young boys trapped in stuffy old offices in pretentious British preparatory schools. If I wanted adventure, I’d have to make my own. I could not live vicariously through someone else’s. Unfortunately, my opportunities for adventure were not only limited, they were non-existent.
I spent much of my time in a dark, wood-paneled prison cell lined with cabinets stuffed with odd objects and ancient artifacts and surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves jammed with leather-bound books in every language imaginable. What my cell didn’t have was a single painting or photograph of me. That might not have been surprising if it really was a prison cell, but it wasn’t. It just felt like it.
My father peered down at me as I picked at the corner of the ancient Greek text I was supposed to find fascinating. His brow lowered into harsh lines as he rebuked me once again.
“Young man, those words are priceless! How many times do I have to tell you?”
“I didn’t do anything.” To prove my point, I moved my hand away from the torn corner to the nearest bit of text. “Look, you can still read the words.”
Professor Armitage, my father, removed thin wire-framed glasses from the end of his nose and rubbed his eyes. He waved his hand over the old manuscript he’d been studying, one of several scattered around his knotted oak desk. The leather chair creaked as he leaned back and gazed out the window.
“Alexander, I’m almost done with these translations.”
I said nothing as the professor returned to the page, but I saw it—the expression of satisfaction and pride one might expect to see light up a father’s face on his only son’s birthday. But the expression wasn’t for me.
“If my theory is right, this is the lost account of a Stone Age civilization’s destruction on the island of Malta.”
“Exciting,” I groaned. “I’m hungry and it’s almost eight o’clock.” The lines on his forehead deepened to crevasses. After a moment’s pause, when I was certain the thick vein in his neck would pop, I mumbled, “Get out of your dreams and into your Greek. Yes, sir. I will, sir.” But it was lie, a bold-faced one, too. I’d been dreaming of flying, of bursting through a dense cloud bank to surprise my enemy, retrieve a stolen treasure after a terrifying swordfight at dizzying heights, and rescue a damsel in distress. There were no clouds in my book.
“As punishment for the damage, I want you to read aloud—in the original.”
Dreams had to wait, as usual. I tossed back two locks of hair and began to read aloud. After a few moments, he tapped the thin metal pointer he’d been using to read, and I looked up.
“The correct way to say it is xi-fos. Now, what does xifos mean?”
“Sword.” I quickly replied. One of my favorite words in any language.
“Once again, but this time in Latin.”
I repeated the sentence in Latin, and he nodded his approval.
“Now in Aramaic.”
“But no one even speaks….” My voice trailed off. The stern look on my father’s face meant a whipping was imminent if I continued. Under my breath I mumbled, “If Mom were alive, she wouldn’t make me.”
“I will not listen to that kind of talk.”
Since my mother’s passing, each new school brought more and tougher studies. Maybe my father thought the languages would ground me, or all the studying would keep me out of trouble, but it only filled me with useless information—and endless frustration. Now, we’d landed in Eton, and I wondered when I’d ever go home to America again. A small sigh escaped, but I did what I was told and repeated the sentence in Aramaic.
“Good. Now continue your homework. I must finish this translation tonight.”
Relieved, I returned to my silent reading—and to my daydreaming. After a while, when I was sure he lost in his own world, I slid open one of the cabinet drawers and peered at the small leather pouch sitting alone on a folder. I flipped it open to reveal two lenses trimmed with polished brass.
“Can I use your telescope?”
“No, put it back.”
That word, always that word. No. No sweets. No, you’re wrong. No, you can’t stay in America. My jaw clenched, and I watched my father’s eyes glaze over again as he reentered his world of ancient letters. I reached back in the drawer, plucked out the pouch, dropped the telescope into my bag, and slowly shut the drawer. My father would never miss it, and I thought it made a fine birthday present.
The moments crept by, and I wondered what the boys in the dormitories were doing. What my friends back home were doing? What normal boys with normal fathers were doing?
“Alexander.” A single shaft of light clung to my father’s face as he snapped up from his work. “There’s something I should tell you.”
I half listened, ready for another lecture on something old and uninteresting. “Huh.”
After a moment of silence, I glanced up and saw my father watching me, studying me like one of his yellowing codices. He shook his head sadly. “Never mind, you’re not ready.”
Ready for what? Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. Even if I was ready, he’d never see it. To calm myself, I refocused on the book. I certainly didn’t want to transcribe the sentence into hieroglyphics.
My stomach roiled—we never ate dinner until our work was done for the evening—and I suddenly had the feeling that I might be getting sick. My pulse quickened and I sat up. Something nagged at me, but I could not say what, just that everything felt off kilter somehow.
A loud bang rang out from the hallway and we both jumped.
“Probably just the janitor,” the professor said. “Nothing to worry about.”
Nothing to worry about. Right. I shook my head in disbelief. Eton College might be the most exclusive school in the British Empire, but I had plenty to worry about. The heirs of British aristocracy, my classmates, had treated me like a second-class citizen since I set foot in the place, and because of my father’s position, I couldn’t fight back when they tormented me. There were probably some snooty upper-crust dandies lurking out in the hall, just waiting to pummel me again. If only I was back home in America. I imagined whipping out a saber and showing them what a real sword fight was like—not that I was ever allowed to practice.
“Don’t worry,” my father said again, as if to reassure himself more than me. “There’ll be no intruders at Eton. They promised we’d be well-protected here.”
“Well-protected? Who promised—” I started to ask just as the door blew off its hinges and slammed into the far wall, a long crack seamed down its center. I screamed and scrambled to my feet as four stocky brutes marched in wearing long, dark overcoats and derby hats with rounded goggles. Wielding menacing, short black clubs, they looked like they’d just come from London’s Whitechapel district with murder on their minds.
My father was on his feet in an instant. He grabbed one of the ponderous tomes from the pile on his desk and slammed it down on the nearest derby. A dusty cloud enveloped the intruder’s head like a halo as he staggered back.
My father just clocked a nefarious henchman! I’d never even seen him make a fist.
“Get back!” my father yelled, shoving me toward the windows.
The dusty bruiser regained his footing, grunted in annoyance, and snorted from his nose like a raging bull. He raised a fist the size of my head.
My father held the book in front of his face. “Why did I have to grab this one?” he moaned.
The book took the punch, and my father fell against his desk, but quickly scrambled away as a second blow whooshed past.
The men surrounded him with raised clubs.
I wanted to scream, but found my voice trapped in my throat like it was stuck behind a locked door. These were not annoying classmates. They were not from Eton at all.
The biggest brute, with a mask of bronze plates fastened over the right half of his face and an eye that sparked with electricity, stepped forward. “Ya’ll gonna be comin’ with us, Professor.” His deep southern American drawl had a harsh, guttural tone.
They weren’t even from England!
“Who are you?” My father demanded.
“Nevermind ’bout that.” A whirring sound buzzed past my ear as a grappling hook connected by a thin wire shot out from the leader’s sleeve. I barely uttered, “Watch out!” before it had snagged my father’s shoulder.
My dad pushed me aside. “Run!”
But I was frozen in place.
The grappling hook yanked my father off his feet and dragged him across the floor. The leader of the group pressed his heavy booted foot down on my father’s chest as the grappling hook retracted into his sleeve. The lamplight reflected off the man’s belt buckle. It was unmistakable: engraved in silver, the crossed bands of stars from the Confederate flag flickered like they were waving in the wind.
The henchman looked down at my father and gave him a crooked one-sided smile. “Now, what you gonna do? Speak Greek to us?” The other men laughed as if that was the funniest joke they’d ever heard, but their laughter was cut short when the room exploded in glass.
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